ASCII by Jason Scott

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Zoo —

On Saturday I saw Zoo, which is the gentle, artistic documentary about a guy who died having sex with a horse.

The guy dying was all over the place when it happened in 2005, and this film takes the approach of making such a lyrical, prettifying movie around the subject that you will at least listen to the side of the members of his community, even if one might find the whole circumstance abhorrent.

I saw it on video, basically, in the video theatre at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. This movie shouldn’t be seen on video, or at least, it should be seen in high definition video if film isn’t available. It was obviously shot to be really, really, pretty. I wanted to see it in a theatre because that way some amount of “voting” came back to the distributors that I appreciated the film being made. I happened to speak to one of the staff about the showing being on video when the movie was obviously shot on film, and he said the distributor simply didn’t forsee crowds justifying the cost of a print being made. And he was right, in a way, since our Friday evening showing was less than a dozen people. The “minimax” theatre that shows video holds less than 15, anyway. So there we go.

I hadn’t been to the Coolidge Corner in a while; holy crap did they do amazing work on it! I used to be very annoyed with how they gave their lobby over to a pizza parlor years and years ago; you could see, obviously, where they’d just closed the inner doors, put a refreshment stand in front of it, and then drilled a hole in the side of the building for a new lame entrance and ticket window. I went, of course, because the main theater was great-looking and they had great lineups and all the rest of the “real” reasons one goes to a revival/art-house location. But since I was there last, they’ve totally redone the place so beautifully that you would be absolutely pressed to think it wasn’t always this way, that it always looked this beautiful and open and art-deco and the rest. I mean, I’m not being superlative when I tell you it went from banged-up showgirl to stunning world-class diva in terms of presentation and layout. I’ll be going there quite a bit this summer when I have time.

So, two reviews, related and not related.

Zoo, itself, pushes the envelope for me as to what a documentary is; as a radio, “This American Life” episode, it would have had the real voices of the people involved (it only has roughly 4 people who were “there” in various ways) without having to resort to the legion of actors completely re-creating the entire event from the ground up, which is what happens. The film, in other words, serves as “illustration” for what is essentially an audio collage. Now, make no mistake, it’s fuckin’ beautiful and there’s amazing shots, setups, and music there. (It’s also paced a little too slow for the audience I was with and was pushing it for me.) But in the end, you really can’t tell what was there and what was real and what was not “real” and so on. Even if based in reality, doing shots anywhere but at the event as it happens means a lot of artistic license can be taken, and so it’s barely a documentary on that front. I think the distinction can be made between a pleasant cinematic experience and an accurate/realistic film. I think that distinction is harder to make when the whole production is called a “documentary”.

The second review is a thousand times more petty: the red-haired guy working the ticketing/lobby was a dick. I’ve dealt with this guy before; he’s bitter, nasty, and he makes up rules. Tonight’s made up rule was “Jason can’t stay in the lobby marveling at the improvements to the lobby but has to immediately go wait outside in the rain, even though Jason’s buddy was waiting for 15 minutes in the lobby for Jason to arrive.” It’s a tough but fair rule, I guess, inside the guy’s head; but if the issue was that I was talking too loud, it’s not without precedent to ask a patron to keep it down during showtimes, even as they’re heaping accolades to his movie buddies about how great this theater has been renovated. Especially if, as was my case, hundreds of dollars were donated by that person into the Coolidge’s renovation fund over the last 4-5 years. My name is etched on a seat, actually.

My buddy who was going with me was in the process of buying tickets to a charity event at the theater being held in June, and he later confided to me he nearly stopped the sale watching the guy’s attitude and treatment of me. That’s not a good situation for such an amazing theater, but it does show an important lesson: it doesn’t matter how nice the car is, if the chauffeur’s a jerk.

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  1. Herr Doktor Deth Vegetable says:

    Oh my god. I could not disagree more with your take on the new coolidge. It is *HORRIBLE*. I mean, I am all in favour with maintaining and even refitting the premises.. but how they did it? please. It is just an extension of the horrible aesthetics that describe the marquee they added several years ago. It’s like if the authentic Art Deco of the Coolidge was consumed and then vomited back up by some huge 1980s Nagel monster, and then neon-lit by someone laid off the crew of Miami Vice circa 1987.

    Altogether horrible. ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: At least it isn’t structural damage, for the most part. In the future, when people realize just what an abortion this new foyer decoration is… they can remove it. No harm, no foul.

    Love and crumpets,
    – Veg

    ps: Just for accuracies sake, although the old lobby is NOW a pizza place, it was originally an Au Bon Pain. An Au Bon Pain whose corrupt workforce fed the denizens of Messiah Village for months, I might add. Mmmmm… Ham + Cheese Croissant….

  2. Dan Moniz says:

    Favour? I do think Britannia may have taken too strong a hold on ye.

    Good to see, or at least read, you though.

  3. Charlie says:

    I continue to have mixed, mainly disappointed feelings about the movie. Over the weekend I’ve come to the conclusion that Zoo fails the audience because it is fundamentally afraid to empathize with the subjects. It makes a sincere attempt, but can’t help from being a little anxious that it’ll be identified as Zoo itself. Kind of like a good Christian being willing to sit next to a gay person at dinner but not TOO close. It tries not to judge, but in the end the movie does judge, and what it says is “those poor, sorry, broken people.”

  4. Jason Scott says:

    Hey! It’s my buddy!

  5. Flack O'Hara says:

    I finally got around to watching this tonight. I got my copy from Netflix; unsurprisingly, Zoo did not make it to theaters in Oklahoma. Jason, I agree with the audience you saw the movie with — way too slow paced for me. I never could have imagined a movie about horse-fucking could be so boring, but this one was. I also agree with you that this pushes the limit of the word documentary — docudrama or perhaps “faithful retelling” might have been more appropriate. They didn’t even have the real horse! 😉